Ziva David Deserved Better Than What ‘NCIS’ Gave Her

In the world of crime procedurals, ex-spies are nothing new. However, the CBS flagship series NCIS was never interested in introducing a typical ex-spy character, which was why they brought in the remarkable Ziva David (Cote de Pablo). Ziva made her debut back in Season 3, and it didn’t take long for her to become one of the show’s most popular characters. Ziva is a Mossad spy and assassin who eventually becomes a skilled federal agent under the leadership of Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), the agency’s most popular lead agent. The character would remain one of NCIS’s primary stars until Season 10 when de Pablo decided to exit the crime drama (she only makes a one-episode appearance in Season 11). While the character may have received a lot of screen time, episodes built entirely around Ziva were unfortunately limited to a handful each season, and, even then, they typically involved her fellow agent, Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly). The lack of juicy storylines for Ziva was a disappointment and may have even led to de Pablo’s sudden departure from NCIS.

A Shocking Murder Brought Ziva to ‘NCIS’

When NCIS Season 3 premiered, Gibbs’ team had just suffered a tragic loss. Caitlin “Kate” Todd (Sasha Alexander), one of his agents, is killed in the line of duty by none other than Ziva’s half-brother, Ari (Rudolf Martin). Ziva makes herself known to Gibbs and his team early on in the episode. Despite her relatively young age, Ziva is as accomplished as they come, having worked both as an assassin and intelligence operative for Mossad.

Much of the two-part Season 3 opener focuses on Gibbs and Ari hunting each other. As for Ziva, she is adamant that her brother had nothing to do with Kate’s murder. It’s unclear whether she truly believes this or she is in self-denial, but, soon enough, Ziva helps Gibbs put an end to the madness. She shoots Ari dead after the Mossad spy-gone-rogue attempts to kill the senior NCIS agent. In doing so, the Israeli spy earns Gibbs’ trust and respect, paving the way for Ziva to join Gibbs’ team. NCIS creator Donald Bellisario knew the character would be a hit.

On ‘NCIS,’ Ziva Finds a Family and a Love Interest

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Ziva may not have been Gibbs’ first female agent, but the two shared a special bond from the start. Part of Gibbs’ charm is that he is usually unreadable, but NCIS was quick to show that Ziva knew how to get under his skin. Interestingly, Gibbs and Ziva were also the only main characters who have a deep understanding of loss. Years before Ari’s death, Ziva’s little sister, Tali, died in a Hamas suicide bombing. As for Gibbs, his first wife and daughter were murdered while he was away on a mission. It was clear that Gibbs and Ari were kindred spirits.

Meanwhile, Ziva’s arrival also switched up the dynamic in Gibbs’ team. In Kate’s time, the bond between Gibbs’ agents had been sibling-like. With Ziva, however, NCIS recognized that it had more room to play with, despite Gibbs’ strict rules about co-workers dating. While Ziva’s friendship with fellow agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) remained strictly platonic, her relationship with Tony was complicated from the start. From the moment the characters meet, the flirtatious energy between Tony and Ziva is apparent, so much so that they eventually earned the nickname “Tiva.” The show leaned into it, letting Ziva and Tony play off each other as fans developed a fascination for their will-they-won’t-they relationship. Before Season 3 ends, the two characters go undercover as married assassins. They also get stuck together inside a shipping container for hours. Early on, NCIS hints that the two characters are being set up together for something … but what?

Season 4 let slip some clues early on. By then, Ziva and Tony are spending time together outside of work. Because this was still a crime drama, however, NCIS didn’t offer any further details beyond that. At the same time, Ziva’s story mostly plays out as a minor subplot, which sees her settling into her new life as a federal agent. Conveniently, the show also put Tony on an undercover case that led to another (temporary) love interest. From this point forward, Ziva is strictly a team player, which is expected since NCIS is an ensemble show. That said, the action drama does give its main characters their time in the spotlight from time to time. In the case of Ziva, however, storylines centered on her typically also involved Tony. For instance, in Season 4, when Ziva gets framed for murder after Mossad operatives assassinate a target on American soil, it is up to Tony to prove her innocence. Later on, in Season 5, the two agents are also at the center of the story together when they travel to Los Angeles to become Director Shepard’s protection detail, only for the assignment to end in tragedy.

Meanwhile, in Season 6, NCIS played its Mossad card once more. That season introduces another love interest for Ziva in the form of a Mossad agent named Michael Rivkin (Merik Tadros). Just like Ari, however, Michael is up to no good. While dating Ziva, he’s also been targeting federal agents, making him a person of interest for both NCIS and the agency’s Office of Special Projects in L.A. (the setting for the spinoff series NCIS: Los Angeles). The situation comes to a head in Season 6’s penultimate episode when Tony finds Michael in Ziva’s apartment. The men get into a scuffle and Tony kills Michael by accident.

Mossad Plays a Big Role in Ziva’s ‘NCIS’ Story

After Michael’s death, Gibbs and his team escort his body back to Israel. While there, Mossad also questions Tony’s motive for killing their agent, while Ziva isn’t sure where she belongs anymore. In the end, she chooses to stay behind with Mossad at the end of Season 6. Later on, when Season 7 opens, Ziva is presumed dead after a Mossad mission goes wrong. They soon learn that she is being held captive in Somalia by a group of terrorists and stage a rescue. More is revealed regarding the circumstances that led to Ziva’s capture in a later Season 7 episode, which serves as a reminder of Ziva’s unique skill set and deadly nature. And while it may seem like it’s finally the character’s time to shine, it turns out to be not so much the case. Here, Ziva recounts her final mission as a Mossad agent as Gibbs and his team work to clear her name after her Mossad team leader framed her for the murder of a former U.S. Marine involved in the mission.

Family and Mossad matters also follow Ziva in subsequent seasons. Season 8 sees the spy-turned-agent briefly reunite with her father. They reunite again in Season 10, but that turned out to be the storyline that led to Ziva’s exit from the show. Cote de Pablo later alluded to the lack of storylines for her character as one of the reasons for her hasty departure. During a 2016 Q&A, she explained that she left the show because of “scripts not being good enough.” In the end, Ziva’s rich backstory and unique skill set never translated to storylines that would have helped her stand out. Sure, the character had a lot of impressive action scenes, but these were usually designed to make episodes more entertaining rather than contributing to Ziva’s growth as a character.

De Pablo made a brief appearance in Season 11 to seemingly close out her story. In the end, Ziva decides to stay in Israel, and that is where the show left her for years. However, after Weatherly departed the show, NCIS revealed that Ziva had been killed in her home in Israel and that her and Tony share a daughter, Tali. He quits being an agent and moves to Paris with Tali. But wait! In Season 16, NCIS dropped another plot twist: Ziva faked her death to hunt down Sahar (Louise Barnes), a terrorist and former associate of Ari. De Pablo herself appears in several Season 17 episodes to track down Sahar with Gibbs and his team. She also helps Gibbs with a case later in the season before finally reuniting with Tony and Tali in Paris. And even more Ziva stories are coming, as de Pablo will be reuniting with Weatherly for a new NCIS spinoff aptly entitled NCIS: Tony & Ziva as the NCIS universe continues to expand. Most excitingly, de Pablo also serves as one of the producers on the new show, so maybe Ziva can truly have her story fully told this time around.


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